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It looms up out of the woods like a dormant beast. Grand, imposing… abandoned and deteriorating, the Danvers State Mental Hospital, closed down for 15 years is about to receive 5 new visitors. Donning protective gear, the men of the Hazmat Elimination Co. venture into the eerily vast and vacant asylum that is filled with an evil and mysterious past. Rampant patient abuse, medieval medical procedure and rumors of demonic possession are some of the many dark secrets the hospital holds - but then so do each of the men.
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Just as in Steel Magnolias, this movie centers around a work space, only instead of a hair salon, it's this massive old building, an abandoned state hospital that treated the insane, where a crew of five asbestos abatement workers have come to abate the asbestos, which I didn't even know was a thing people specialized in, but when one of the characters explains to his less seasoned colleague how over time the fibers in your lung build up like pearls that are actually time bombs whose explosion will eventually flood all the tubes and tubules of your lungs and leave you drowning from within, I had to admit it was a brilliant choice as an element for a horror movie.
And just a men are basically physically absent throughout most of Steel Magnolias (I haven't seen the movie, but I did watch the play) so are women here, appearing only in fleeting glimpses, or as the subject of jealous rivalries, sources of guilt and, in one crucial case, a voice on audiotape.
The biggest strength in this film is the way that it is able to draw emotionally convincing portraits of an ensemble of characters. Each of the five asbestos workers has his own motivation, his own burden of problems, his own weaknesses and his own wounds, and all of them feed into the building tension that threatens to tear the group apart as things slowly begin to go south.
Especially distinctive among movies about scary abandoned places, Session 9 mostly takes place during the day, sunlight streaming into the great ruined chamber that was once a solarium, or making intense penumbrae around the edges of boarded up windows. I read somewhere that the screenplay was basically written in order to be able to shoot in the incredible location, on the outside a huge brick castle, on the inside a fascinating picture of decay made all the creepier by the filmmakers who supply us with patient rooms whose walls are paste-caked with newspaper images of death and deformity, and a hollowed out space in the walls containing old coins, gold teeth and a tiny pouch filled with prosthetic eyes of glass.
This is the best sort of independent horror movie, and it really didn't surprised me when I saw Larry Fessenden make a cameo appearance—I don't know that I've ever seen this great promoter of creative talent within the horror industry appear in a bad film (check the comments for a short list of some of my favorite films Fessenden appears in). While it may not be as ground breaking as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is every bit as much a fully realized piece and while it's quite low key and no gore fest, it succeeds at taking you to scary places and showing you blood curdling sights.
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